Tara walked deliberately across the bridge, watching a broken branch drift away in the river. She couldn’t bring herself to look up and ahead.
She felt, as always, the memory of that day painfully searing through the back of her mind. The first time she had tried to return, she had been rigid with fear; the scene had been eerily familiar- the same dry woods, the same crunch of leaves as she trampled over them. The only difference had been she was not rushing to escape.
She hated the then unnamed man for what he had done. It wasn’t just her innocence he had taken. He had stolen her sanctuary, soiled it forever, as she bit her tongue, hoping against hope that none of it was real.
Despite the satisfaction of putting him behind bars, only three years of martial arts and learning how to handle a taser had convinced her to return again.
There had been days, as a child, when she spent her time very differently. Away from Krav Maga classes and the busy pleasures to be found in the city, she had set her own pace, in the midst of trees that she whispered stories to, and squirrels that taunted her, but were impossible to catch. But, now her flashbacks were layered with despair and useless cries for help.
Unable to dwell on unhappy thoughts any longer, she risked glancing up. The woods were different. More green and lush than she had ever seen them, even just after the heavy rains.
The weeds and shrubs were alive with colour, and soft to the touch. They barely made a sound as she gingerly stepped on them, expecting a solid crunch. Every leaf seemed to be telling her that things were different, this time in a good way. But how? Why?
She searched for an explanation and for once, was blissfully denied one by her neurotic mind. The acceptance was more than just logic; it was intuition, and she held on with every inch of her soul.
She faced her favourite tree and knelt before it. Breathing more freely, she could remember the afternoons she had rested against it- reading and losing herself in a different world. It had always cushioned her fall back to reality and it was still there. Running her fingers up the moss, she felt tears of relief leak through her eyes.
Up in the trees, the squirrels twinkled at her.
The Watchful Redwood